Today’s guest post is written by Jonathan Sigmon, aka “Sigs”, founder of Signature Entertainment:
Many artists and bands looking to take their music careers to the next level are looking for an artist manager. Putting together the right team around your band can be the difference between being a very talented local band or being able to actually tour and sustain a living. So what should you, the band, be looking for in an artist management company/representative and what are realistic expectations from them?
The answer to the first question is fairly easy. Simply look to see the results the manager has delivered in the past. Every artist manager is going to drone on and on about their connections to many industry executives (which can be legitimate or not), but the question you should be looking at for every person on your team (band mates included) is, “What can you deliver?” This sounds very business-like, which most artistic people want to run away from, but it is the reality of the situation if you are trying to make a sustainable career.
As for the realistic expectations of the manager, I think that both sides must spell this out during the contract and negotiations stage. For every manager it looks different and each one is going to have areas of strengths and weaknesses. However, there are some key questions about personal attributes and connections that you definitely want to explore, including:
- What is the past experience and reputation of the manager?
- Do they believe in your vision and are they willing to become your advocate?
- Is there a connection to a recording studio that can produce the kind of sound your band is looking for?
- Can the manager find you a booking agent?
- Does the manager have business and contract negotiation experience?
- Are there connections with a merch/graphic/web designer? Is there knowledge of your key music business websites and how to create a solid SEO for the band?
- Does the manager know of a place for the band to practice?
- Can the manager help you define and achieve your goals, as well as help decide where to invest your limited money?
- Does the manager know how to find good writers for press, websites, contracts, etc. (i.e. publicist)?
- Does the manager know how to get your songs published and ensure your royalties will be paid?
- Does the manager have connections with a photographer and videographer?
- Does the manager have relationships with any record labels in which you are interested? Do they at least have good phone conversation skills in order to discuss matters concerning your band?
Obviously, you may not need your artist manager to fulfill all of these duties, as you may already have some of these needs met (such as a practice space or a recording studio where you feel comfortable). As a band, it is important to prioritize the needs of the group and search for those attributes.
Or: Don’t Confuse Supply with Demand
The use of music marketing technology is not in and of itself an act of music marketing
In my own errant quest to get people to hear my music (and pay me for it), I’ve made an understandable but large mistake. I thought that by using the millions of digital music distribution tools out there, one of them would “stick”, and I’d somehow move forward.
Typical thought process: “If I put my music on MySpace, Reverb Nation, Facebook, etc., then set up my own site and embed my music download widgets everywhere, put it on iTunes and Rhapsody, etc. with Tunecore, blah blah blah, then something’s gotta happen.” Well, I was wrong. Putting a shingle out there with your name on it may be called “marketing”, but it’s so passive that it doesn’t really even qualify.
Why I Could Not Sell My Music
I became more interested in the means of delivery than the process of actively winning someone over with my music. It’s easy to find the details of technology interesting and consuming when the daunting tasks of real success are terrifying.
This train of thought was spawned tonight by a musician who asked what I thought of Audiolife, a company I hadn’t heard of but which offers another turnkey solution for indie musicians to create embedded widgets of their music and merchandise.
Don’t Miss the Forest for the Trees
With sites like Nimbit, Musicane, and from the looks of it, Audiolife, you can have some great technology that allows any crappy musician to have some incredible tools to conduct all sorts of online “business”. And since my interest in music marketing has morphed primarily into the tech side of things, I can really appreciate these turnkey, embeddable solutions that people are putting out. Each empowers artists like never before, in different ways. From my very brief scan of Audiolife’s site, they look to be similar. They’ve extended the functionality ever further, but still depend on artists to actually sell things to make their money. They operate on a commission basis, meaning if artists aren’t selling music and merchandise, then Audiolife doesn’t make any money.
If We’re All Starring in Our Own TV Shows, Who’s at Home to Watch Us?
My general “feeling” is that the entire model is a losing enterprise. In my narrow experience, no one wants to pay for music anymore, and no one cares about the merchandise of some unknown artist. Especially in today’s era of American Idol and Facebook, where everyone wants to and can be a celebrity in their own way. A company like Audiolife may be able to stay in business by taking a tiny piece of a tiny piece from the millions of amateur musicians out there. But for these amateur musicians, whether they choose Audiolife, Nimbit, or Santa Clause isn’t going to change the lack of demand for their “products”.
The Question to Now Ask Yourself
Can you can create demand sufficient enough to warrant the time and energy in setting up an online merch widget?
Update: Revenue Model Abandoned?
I just went to Musicane‘s website, and noted that they now have generic banner ads on their site. Which tells me that their revenue model isn’t working. The ads are for auto insurance and checking your credit scores. This smells of desperation. I can relate. But encouraging people to leave their site isn’t going to improve their business. In my opinion…
Turning back to the old subject of this blog, how to promote independent music, Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, recently posted an article about how nobody’s going to help you out to advance your music career.
This is my experience on the subject. It’s not in anyone’s financial interest to help a struggling musician. The odds of turning a profit on someone without a huge existing fanbase are against you. So, it’s a tough road.
Good luck to you. Check out the article, read the hundreds of comments so far…
I recently came across two great articles that lay out good marketing strategies for musicians with practically no money. So, no more excuses that you’re broke! Check ‘em out…
Speaking of resources, this place seems to cover any topic you might think of. Though the insights may not blow your mind…
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about niche marketing for music. Phil Robinson mentioned it in his MusicSnob interview, and Derek Sivers of CDBaby wrote a good post on it. Sivers says that by solving a particular need, you will sell more music.
A lot of musicians approach people this way: “Hey, check out my music! It’s really awesome.”
Response: “What’s it sound like?”
Artist: “It’s really catchy, and sounds kind of like…”
As I know from my own experience, people won’t really care, because every musician thinks their music is good, and vague superlatives won’t inspire people to check it out.
The Solution, as I See It
The solution, then, is to associate your music with a specific purpose and a specific audience.
Because each of my songs is driven by a very different narrative, I haven’t thought up a single target niche. However, I have identified three different niches for the three main tracks on my latest EP, and am going to market them accordingly. Here’s the run-down:
This track presents an inspired vision of romantic love. But it’s not specific enough to really fit in a super-targeted group. A different angle, though, is that Omar Hakim, a world-famous drummer, plays on all the tracks of the EP. Perhaps by focusing on blogs aimed at drummers, instead of blogs that write about rock bands, I can get some people talking about the track. Omar’s playing is phenomenal on the entire EP, and I think drummers would love to hear what he can do in a studio session for an unknown artist.
This track is about taking a road trip across America with a good friend. My youth was heavily influenced by Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road. This track is a musical homage to his influence on my life, and portrays the energy and excitement of road trips. I’m going to contact web communities of Kerouac fans and share this song with them, because I think it might speak to them in a similar way to his writings.
Track 3: Devil Song
This song is trickier, as the narrative is more complicated. It’s based on the story of Satan’s rebellion against God, as portrayed in the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton. This is probably too obscure for most rock listeners. But one idea is to target literary communities online and see if the depiction of Satan’s dilemma resonates with any literary scholars or poets.
I could also target Christian communities, but I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with that. The song is about Satan’s despair at being cast out of heaven and unable to coexist with humans on Earth. I’m not sure Christians would be too sympathetic, and, frankly, I don’t want my music associated with religious causes.
How About You?
What sort of niche markets are you targeting with your songs?
For some great tips on marketing your music online, we recently turned to Eric Hebert, CEO of Evolvor Media. His company works with bands and labels to roll out successful web marketing campaigns. Here are his thoughts…
In your opinion, what are the essential social networking sites that bands MUST be on these days?
There are a ton of networks out there, and with new ones coming out every day it seems, the task of setting up all these profiles can be time consuming. Obviously MySpace and Facebook are no-brainers, they’re going to be the ones you use the most. If you’re in the rock genre, Purevolume and GarageBand are must haves. Virb is becoming very popular because of its clean but customizable options. You’ll have to get on YouTube for videos and Flickr for photos, they’re part of the plan as well. You’ll also need to make traction on the big three streaming networks – Last.fm, iLike, and Imeem. Saving the best for last, Reverbnation offers the best tools out of any of these networks to help promote their music and nurture their fanbase.
How can an independent artist use MySpace effectively to develop a fan community? Is that even possible anymore?
MySpace is just a tool in your toolbox. It has to be part of a bigger plan. You’ll use it to gain fans and communicate with them, but ultimately you’ll want to have your own website, your own blog, your own contact list. Use MySpace and the other networks to interact and bring them to your website. Do you own the contact list you have through MySpace? You want to build your communnity and own the asset.
What are some of the most exciting music marketing tools you’ve seen lately?
I mentioned Reverbnation, they are offering fantastic tools, mostly for free. They have the best streaming music widgets out there, the sound quality is far superior to MySpace’s player. The have a full list management system that also coordinates your street team. I used to pay money for a similar system that was harder to use! Full analytics for everything as well, all in very nice charts and graphs. Their Gig Finder helps you book shows with contact information available right there. Soon they’re going to be rolling out some awesome new options, you really need to check them out.
Do you want your web videos to look like this?
Or like this?
One of the problems with having a budget of practically zero for online music marketing is that it can be difficult to create good quality videos for the web. I have a decent digital camera, but the last time I created a video in YouTube, it turned into a pile of crap. See below:
In addition to having poor image quality, the sound is pretty bad. The poor sound quality is particularly noticeable before the song really gets going, and you can hear the mic “noise”. I tried using audio noise filters in Adobe Premiere Pro, which seemed to work while listening in the program, but for some reason the final video still suffered.
So. A quick Google search has brought up several sites that seem to have very good suggestions that we can all use to avoid having crappy videos that no one wants to watch because they are too blurry:
If you scroll through this site, you will find a ton of articles on compressing videos for YouTube using a range of programs, as well as string of other articles with even more tips.
Just another example of how the internet is now doing the work of 100 men. 24 hours a day. Thank you, Mr. Internet!
Additional Sound Enhancement
For musical performances, keep in mind that you can process the sound from video. So if you know what you’re doing, you can eliminate most background hiss, add some slight reverb or delay for warmth, and EQs. Nice. Go easy on the reverb, though, because it can be quite weird listening to cathedral sounds while watching a video of someone’s basement.
My new music has been out for under two weeks, and I’ve had great responses so far. The most rewarding part has been using social networking sites and my music blog to reach out to people I haven’t talked to in a while and let them know what I’ve been up to, and to create some dialogue about my music.
Don’t Assume Your Listeners Have Any Idea What You’ve Been Up To…
As a music creator absorbed with the minutia of my creations, I often make assumptions about what listeners will know or hear as they experience my music for the first time. As if the countless hours I put into the project, song lyrics, thought processes, etc. have somehow been broadcast to each and every person that may ever listen to the results.
So this time around, I’m trying to “lift the veil” so to speak and give people some insight into my creative process; by using a blog, I can write installments addressing different aspects of the music: lyrics, themes, art work, recording process, musicians, performance videos.
Don’t Waste Time and Money Building Your Own Site from Scratch
I’m finding that standard blog software is so well-developed that it has made it entirely unnecessary to put together my own website. Obviously some design customization is required, but wonderful programs like WordPress, which I use, have so much back-end functionality, which I could never program on my own. Online documentation and user communities are so extensive, that any answers to my development questions are found easily on Google or WordPress’ documentation site.
Do Companies Selling Services to Musicians Target Mediocre Artists? And if so, so what?
The rise in tools for making independent music has created a booming target market for music biz “how-to” gurus, books, websites, etc. Including this blog. But the abundance of people that will never achieve “mainstream” popularity as musicians (some music biz people I’ve talked to refer to them as “delusionals”), are creating what another calls “Empires of Dreams,” or very profitable companies that target these hopeless individuals, despite the implicit knowledge that very few of them will ever actually have much success.
To sum up my concern: companies market their goods and services in such a way that appeals to not only those reasonably talented, but especially to those who are entirely delusional. Is it possible that some companies are in fact targeting the “delusionals” specifically, instead of those with higher probability of success? My suspicions arose through my own experiences as a musician, AND by the thought that it doesn’t really matter to these businesses whether you succeed, but only that you perceive a service or good as being able to help you to succeed.
Buy at Your Own Risk
That said, I believe in a free economy where consumers are allowed to buy most of the things they could want, including drugs and other “harmful” stuff. I guess the distinction lies in whether a company markets its goods or services with the knowledge that it is “faulty,” or basically not going to help you out at all. Drug dealers don’t tell customers that drugs are good for them…
Real Life Scenarios vis-a-vis Music Licensing Companies
While reviewing various companies that help musicians license their music, I’ve seen a wide variety of business models. Some are pay-up-front, we’ll take whatever you’ve got, and others are very selective, and have a multi-stage screening process for the music that they actually enter into their database, and only get paid when they get you a deal. In my mind, the latter type of company is going to have motives more aligned with those of the artists themselves. They need deals to make money. The former, however, make money by signing people up, not necessarily by getting them licensed. Obviously, the more successful a company is in securing licensing deals, the more people will want to sign up, so they do have a similar, but weaker, motivation to get deals. Just some thoughts. What do you think about it?
Take the “Test”
Have a look at these main marketing images for two well-known music services, the Indie Bible and Taxi.
Are these designed to attract seriously talented people, or “delusionals”? Just a question…
Caveat: I have used both of them, and the Indie Bible has been pretty useful to me on occasion, as was a critique I received from Taxi…So are my suspicions unfounded? Am I too delusional? or what?